The earliest documented stained glass windows in Kazakhstan were those at Almaty's first Palace of Pioneers, a youth center that was built in 1962. Sadly, these landmark works of art haven't survived to the present day, and frustratingly little is known about them. A second Palace of Pioneers was built in 1983 and the old palace was destroyed in 2006 to make way for a luxury hotel, the Rixos. Yet from a few archival images I've been able to gather, I think it's possible to suggest a tentative authorship for the lost windows, and surprisingly, the answer comes from the distant Baltic land of Latvia.
The original Palace was designed by the architect Kim Do Sen and modeled after the popular Palace of Pioneers in Moscow. Moscow's Palace had large sheet glass windows and a "winter garden" with large indoor plants, and in old photographs, it's visible that the Almaty design also included two-story glass pavilions on either side of the main building. In exterior shots, one can make out a series of stained glass panels on the second floor of each pavilion. Our only close-up look at the panels themselves comes via a vintage postcard, where we see young pioneers, with their red neck scarves, surrounded by potted plants and three stained glass windows.
In 2014, the University of Denver’s Dalbey Photographic Collection published a trove of photos taken by a Soviet journalist, Semyon Osipovich Fridlyand, who travelled the USSR in the 1950s for the magazine Ogonyok, which was kind of the Soviet version of LIFE Magazine. Hidden in the massive collection are three remarkable photographs that made my eyes light up. They show Nikolai Tsivchinskiy, the father of tapestry and mosaic art in Kazakhstan, in the studio of the Kovroschitsa Artel, later renamed to the Alma-Ata Carpet Factory (and known today, in a much diminished form, as Almaty Kilem). When Tsivchinskiy was sent to Kazakhstan from his homeland in Ukraine, he founded the country’s first major workshop for tapestries, and later he would produce the republic’s very first wall mosaics. Yet despite this groundbreaking role in the history of Kazakhstan’s monumental art, I’ve only found two photographs of Tsivchinskiy until now, one a pixely photograph of a younger artist, and another from when the man was in his 60s and the peak of his career had already passed. Here, we not only see the man in full, but we get to see the products of his workshop that represent some early examples of Soviet tapestry art in Kazakhstan.
This fall, reporter Daryl Mersom came to Kazakhstan to write about the recent spate of Soviet art "discoveries," and his article "Almaty spills its secrets: lost Soviet art discovered behind wall" is out today on Guardian Cities. The Guardian's Shaun Walker first wrote about Monumental Almaty in October 2017 for the piece "Missing murals: the lost Soviet art of the Stans." Bringing international attention to the existence and importance of Kazakhstan's monumental art is one of our main objectives, so these are encouraging developments!